Orléans parkrun, ON, Canada

My 8th and penultimate, at least for this trip, parkrun in Canada. There are now two parkruns near Ottawa, and I ran Kanata the other week, while I had a car. Both Kanata and Orleans are reachable by bus from the city, but Orleans is closer, so I saved it to run to, first thing.

It’s a nice out and back route, as you can see below, with a slightly downhill start to give some welly, after which it is pretty flat. Even the hill that must be there on the way back to the finish isn’t really noticeable, so this is a course to race, if you are in the mood.

Orleans parkrun route

I will admit that in my planning I had not counted on a slightly iffy knee – recurring, but it has been fine recently – nor, more importantly, on how the weather would shift in October. I have had 11 months in hot or at least tepid weather – one rainy 17 degree start on the Gold Coast, and one chilly April morning in Christchurch were the only cool Saturdays I have seen for a year. Kanata, two weeks ago, was freezing when I got there, but it is not so bad stepping from a warm car. This morning, I set off at 7.20 and it was -3. Not just that, but my route to Orleans took me straight up Montreal Road, into a slight headwind.

It wasn’t that bad. I’m still a Brit at heart, it seems, and not adjusted to hotter weather forever. 7-8 miles in to the run, I turned off the main road and got onto the coastal path, which brought relief from the wind, and scenery, too. Running just over 10 miles to the start gave me a lovely feeling of accomplishment, and seems to have stretched out my legs, rather than further injure them.

Ottawa River pathway
Ottawa River pathway, and relief from the wind.

The start is simple enough to find. If you are going to get the bus, I’d recommend just hopping on the 95 (see www.octranspo.com for times – the 7:50 looks like the one from the Mackenzie King bridge) and walking/jogging the last 2km. It is possible to connect onto the 38 and get closer, but unless the timing is good for you, you’ll be waiting around for the second bus and still won’t get right to the run. The Aussie had tried that method, and ended up in an uber from the local shopping centre, missing the start by a few minutes. She got her run in, though.

Orleans parkrun startline
Orleans parkrun startline, obvious at the end of Orleans Boulevard, next to Cairine Wilson School.

The volunteer team were extremely enthusiastic. There were runners from South Africa, England and Australia, as well as plenty of Canadians and at least one ex-pat Brit. The team was French-Canadian; all of which gave an extra international flavour.

As for the run, my fellow Brit, Chris, set off like a bat out of hell. He doesn’t have the same “I’ve spent 11 months in warm countries” for not having warm running clothes, but, like me, he was in shorts, and raced downhill to help warm up. I caught him after a while, but had company, and that company stayed with me throughout. Multiple sets of feet, but none, it seemed, that wanted to take the lead. Luckily for me, and my vanity in enjoying finishing first, even though I know there are plenty of people quicker than me in any postcode, I was able to put some distance between one of the chasers at the turn, and the other was unregistered and happy to have a, for him, gentle run while pushing me to keep my pace up.

Me with a fellow Brit, Chris, at the finish line
Posing with a fellow Brit, Chris, and the Canadian flag, at the finish line.

As a result, although I ran slower than the last couple of weeks, my last mile was my quickest. Courses here err on the side of being slightly long, at least according to my watch, and this one measured 40-50m over (admittedly, I took a couple of corners wide). Which would explain my average pace being sub 19, and my overall time being just over. My goal has to be to speed up to the point where a few extra metres doesn’t push me over into the next minute.

Unfortunately, the cold stopped the hand scanner from working, so we all stood around for a while. The volunteers were very quick to switch to hand-recording id numbers and positions, but the wait, and then pausing for some photos, meant I was chilly when walking to the bus stop. I had company, a couple of international runners who had only planned their trip to parkrun, not back, so we walked. I ought to have run – my teeth were genuinely chattering, so my conversation game was not strong.

But we timed our walk perfectly to be on the 10:08 bus back to town, which got us all back to the Ottawa Jail – the place to be for all tourists, it seemed – before 10:40, time to shower and pack before an 11:00 checkout.

Canadian Museum of History, Ottawa

Thursday evenings, 5-8pm, is “go to a museum in Ottawa for free” time. That is not enough time to cover more than one, perhaps two, without rushing, and I took a leisurely stroll round the Canadian Museum of History, specifically the history of Canada section, and then headed to Cine+ to see Trolley, a love letter to the streetcar.

View over the Rideau River
View over the Rideau River.

The history of Canada took me around two hours. It is separated into three: early history, colonial and then modern. It is an easy read, though I occasionally got lost following the thread, with both French and English sometimes seeming scattered around the boards at random, with the sequence mysterious. It doesn’t go deep into First Nation history, nor the controversy therein, but nor does it ignore it. Overall, though, the impression is of a country that is fairly relaxed with its history.

View of Parliament, behind the National Museum
View of Parliament, behind the National Museum.
Ancient Inuit artefact (reproduction)
No euphemism here. Yes, they are sharing an intimate moment.

There are some digital interactive displays, like the one above – click (in the museum) on different parts of the image for information. Some of those displays didn’t seem to be working.

Canada's proud war history
Canada’s proud war history.

Once again, visiting a Commonwealth country and seeing its proud history, and the loss involved, shows how daft it is for Britain to claim it ever “stood alone” in WW2.

Terry Fox, diagnosed with cancer, who ran across Canada
Terry Fox, diagnosed with cancer, who ran across Canada.

As a runner, I was drawn to the story of Terry Fox, who was enduring cancer when he set off to run across Canada. He made it much of the way before the disease prevented him going further, and achieved his goal of raising $1 CAD for every person in the country (around 24 million at the time).

Pow wow costume
Pow wow costume. A pow wow is a ceremonial celebration of cultural pride.

I loved the colours on this costume. That’s all I can tell you about it. Do you see that large sign at the top of the post, saying Ottawa? From behind it, obviously, reads AWATTO, which has a certain smack to it. At least I understood it. Last Sunday, watching Toronto’s American Football team, the Argonauts, it took me three go-rounds before I understood why people were running round the pitch, flying flags to spell “SOGRA”.

Shot from film called Trolley
Shot from film called Trolley.

I loved the film, Trolley. Partly that was because I had run in the morning, walked around plenty of Ottawa and this gave me the chance to sit down. It is a love letter to the trolley bus/streetcar/light rail, with a warning about the dangers of the combustion engine towards the end. Toronto, unlike other cities round the world, never got rid of its streetcars, and there are great shots of the ‘red rockets’ heading round the city. The film ends with ‘light rail’ use growing, and some great shots of life in various cities (only North American or French, probably to save the cost of heading everywhere) with those street cars rolling by in the background.

Police escort for ?
Police escort for ?

Leaving the museum, I was paused in the act of crossing a street by a police escort whizzing through, stopping traffic ahead of a convoy. I like to think that as a result, I have been this ~~ close to President Trudeau, an actually intelligent head of state, but it could just as easily have been a prisoner transfer (insert obvious joke about your own country’s government here).

Ottawa; relaxed, a little rough round the edges, with great museums and some lovely parks to the North. Also: at the end of October 2018, cold.

HI Ottawa Jail, Ontario, Canada

After a weekend in Toronto with a running club mate – who had made a similar “sod this, I’ll watch the UK’s idiocy from overseas” decision, only a long-term one involving moving to Canada, I got a ride share to Ottawa.

Back booking my own stay, and the Hostelling International (HI) hostel looked interesting. It is in the old jail in Canada’s capital city, which is located right in the centre. My ride share dropped me at the university, a short walk from the place.

It is possible, and not overly expensive, to stay in a cell. It’s a private room, but one that has a bed, shelf, light and that’s about it. I wasn’t on for that, and paid less for an 8 bed dorm. On the 9th floor, admittedly, but otherwise easier to take.

At 11 each day, the staff give a tour of the building, which was surprisingly interesting – surprising because I had walked around much of it already, and there are plenty of information boards to tell you about the place.

The gallows
The gallows. The rope is not the original, but the whole thing is real.

The most interesting part of the tour talks about the gallows. People were hung here. 3 officially. Originally, there was no wall blocking the view, so the public could watch people be hung, though such public executions were banned in the 19th century. Executions themselves, all by hanging, were not banned until the 1970s.

Behind the gallows
Behind the gallows. The beam

Even more interesting than the official executions are the unofficial ones. In the picture above, the beam at the top is an oddity at first sight. It serves no architectural purpose, and has been added on. Looking at the records, we were told, seven people are listed as having fallen and broken their necks in this staircase. The assumption is that they were hung from this beam (in the middle you can, if not in this photo, see the rope burns).

Rough justice.

Jail entrance - trapdoor from the gallows above
Jail entrance – trapdoor from the gallows above.

Above is the jail exit, above it the trapdoor.

Open mic night in Ottawa
Open mic night in Ottawa.

On Tuesday evening I had a gallop through the streets of Ottawa with the OTT City Run club. I forgot I was in a modern country, so when they announced the run as ‘5-6’ I figured my search for a hard workout would mean me hanging on to a group, maybe dropping off in mile 4. Of course, they meant kilometres, so we were back at Dundonald park (meet there every Tuesday for 7:30 to run – it’s free. Soon to include Wednesday sessions, too, meeting place to be arranged) sooner than I had thought. A chap I had run along with had run with me at Kanata parkrun only a couple of Saturdays ago, and we chatted before I headed back to shower ahead of a pub crawl.

I figured I would come out for two drinks, but two went down quickly and easily, and I followed them on to an open mic night at a local pub. It was busy, some of the performers were great. Some were doing their own thing, and more power to them for getting up their in front of strangers. The gent pictured took on some ballads originally sung by big female voices, which was way out of his comfort zone.

There’s no substitute for time with friends, but sometimes a night making new ones is right up there near a night with existing ones (and I had a couple of those in Toronto; my drinking boots are welded to my feet). I met a Mexican financial analyst, a Brazilian aerospace engineer and a Canadian civil servant. All that talk and drinking, plus us all occasionally reminding each other that “we’re on vacation!” meant in the end I rolled in at 4am. The HI gets a recommendation as a comfortable place to stay and one with a social life that works.

River Oaks parkrun, Ontario, Canada

My seventh parkrun in Canada, and the first of the many that have popped up around Toronto in the last year or so. The area is referred to broadly as the “GTA’. If you visit, expect to hear that phrase routinely, but don’t get excited, it does not mean someone is coming for your car: Greater Toronto Area.

This run is a fast and flat one, with a couple of loops. It is just over the berm that separates the community centre car park from the ‘pipeline’ (wide tarmacced path). The course runs along the pipeline to the other end, then back on yourself, turn left along a trail and follow that round, back onto the pipeline, up to the end again, round the loop again, then turn back towards the start/finish. It’s pretty simple, and there are marshals at key points in any case.

Club mate Lawrence finishing.
Lawrence, my host and club mate, finishing. And a nice view of the finish.

We drove from more or less the centre of the city, which took about half an hour. Parking is plentiful, and we couldn’t miss the run – the people were hidden by the berm, but the parkrun flag was flying proudly. We were among the first to arrive, at 8:30, and so had the luxury of a warm welcome from the multi-national event team. It was a cold but not freezing morning, and I’ll take that at this point. With the sun on our backs post run, it was quite nice, though you’ll see from the photos that I didn’t actually take my gloves off. Could have. Didn’t.

Me, getting my result scanned
Me, getting my result scanned, as the event director looks on.

I have been getting fitter and lighter, and that combined with a couple of tough sessions with the Kingston Road Runners meant that today I ran a couple of quick miles in succession for the first time in a while, and ran the quickest time since New Zealand in April. I’d like to think I can go quicker from here, but it will depend on getting a course as friendly as this one.

Post run we joined several others in Fortinos. It is a supermarket, but like Whole Foods Market in the US, a supermarket with comfortable seating, a cafe, coffee bar and so on. Tesco cafe, this is not. You can eat and drink to your heart’s content, and shop afterwards, if you want.

Lawrence and me, squinting into the sun
Lawrence and me, squinting into the sun.

Dog-sitting in Kingston

Thanks to Trusted Housesitters (.com), I was able to find a place to stay, free of charge, in Kingston, Ontario. There are no parkruns there, but thanks to the generosity of my hosts, I was free to borrow a car and head to Toronto’s outskirts and Ottawa to get my fix. Thanks to their further generosity, I was able to stay there an extra few nights beyond the end of their holiday. I was still taking the dogs for their exercise twice a day, feeding and mucking out the cats, but none of that was unduly exercising. In fact it was fun.

Below is Rosie, a Maltese Terrier. Normally, she’d have a swathe of hair all over, but she got buried into some brambles and was so covered in burrs that they had to shear her. It makes the terrier side more obvious, as it is first thing in the morning when she is all ferocious and that, chewing on whatever she can find.

Yes, it’s cute.

Rosie, a Maltese Terrier
Rosie. First thing, before she’s tired from chasing the big dogs, she gets all ferocious and likes to bite and growl.

To Rosie’s left is Molly, who is much older at 13. As a result she is much slower, occasionally bothered by the attentions of other dogs who want to play. She’s a lovely dog with a good heart, and by the end of my stay her new medication for a slightly dodgy back, which weakens her back legs, was helping enough that she could occasionally break into a jog.

Mollie and Rosie at Gore Road dog park
Mollie and Rosie at Gore Road dog park; quiet in the morning.

The temperature changed over the couple of weeks I was there. From 23 in the first week, to below freezing on a couple of morning visits. On those morning visits we often had the park to ourselves, while in the afternoon we’d be joined by all sorts of dogs. Huskies boss the place, a Dalmation puppy was a great playmate for Rosie and others ran, jumped and played while their owners talked, walked and generally provided a study in human social relations.

Dog-sitting – fabulous.

Kanata parkrun, Ontario, Canada

For my sixth parkrun in Canada, I again borrowed a car and set off in the dark. Ottawa isn’t as far from Kingston as Ajax/Toronto, and I was there in good time, allowing a warm up run along the trail. The usual course is a horseshoe, covering the South and North paths round the pond. But they have four different potential courses, allowing for variation if the lower path floods and so on. At the moment, the North part of the trail is closed while the terrain is blasted away nearby, to make room for suburban development (a new subdivision, as they say here). As a result, the route isn’t a horseshoe, but a double out-and-back.

Kanata parkrun course
Kanata parkrun course – one of four variations. This one doesn’t use the North part of the trail, as there is blasting going on there.

It’s pretty flat, but not totally, with one short but noticeable upward section on the way back. That added to the two 180 degree turns and a few twists and turns makes it quick but not super quick, as routes go.

Kanata finish area
Kanata finish area – peaceful, with only 11 finishers.

This was also the first properly cold day of my trip – just over a year, now. It was freezing when I got there at 8:30, and only a little warmer once we had finished running. Decent conditions for running, but not so much for standing around. They are pretty hardy here, and have only cancelled for extreme cold once. When it is ‘just’ very cold, volunteers will set the run going, then take it in turns to sit in a warm car once people start finishing.

Fall colours along the route
Fall colours along the route.

Normally they get around 30 or so people, but this Saturday there were only 11 of us, including the tail walker. About half of those, plus the run director, headed to the cafe for a post-run chat, and our numbers were swelled by a couple whose table we were invited to use – they were near a power point for the results laptop. She was from Ramsgate, and he a cycle-traveller, so I had something in common, or near enough, with both of them, and the morning disappeared in chat and listening in as the run director explained parkrun, its concept and scope, to the fairly elderly lady from Ramsgate. She nodded indulgently.

Beaver Pond, surrounded by trees
Beaver Pond, surrounded by trees. Sunny, but very cold (near freezing) before 9am.

You can’t beat those colours, right? Assuming I am back in England for an Autumn some time, I can see whether the colours there routinely compare. Right now, it seems unlikely. Canada is beautiful. But getting cold around my ears.

Sights of Kingston, Ontario

I am house and dog-sitting for a week, so don’t have a huge amount of travel to talk about. But I have explored Kingston, Ontario, in between visits to the dog park and topping up cat-food bowls. It’s a city known for three things – prisons, military installations and students. All three are plentiful. For mid October, the weather has been very kind, temperatures up to 23 degrees and clear sunshine much of the time, though that is due to change.

Kingston has plenty of waterfront, runners (especially young, student, ones) all over the place. Fort Henry, near where I’m staying, was made the site of the Canadian cross country running championships, which lasts for four years, and I was happy to be able to run on the course as part of the Kingston Road Runners Tuesday session. Compared the the UK’s courses, it is awfully narrow (just a few metres across even at the start), but checking the results, they get up to 200 runners, rather than up to 2000, so I guess it works out.

The city is cute. Plenty of places to eat, drink and shop, museums, an art gallery, a few cinemas. Everything you need to relax. Head a little further out of town, West, to Lemoine Point for trails (about 4.5km round the edge), views over Lake Ontario and garter snakes basking on the path.

Duffins Trail parkrun, ON, Canada

Inaugural parkruns in the UK have become so popular that they are now soft-launched, aiming for local participants and as few tourists as possible, to give the event team time to bed in, not swamp them with huge numbers on that first, nervy, event. In many other countries, though, numbers are not yet a problem, so the launch of Duffins Trail, roughly equidistant to three other parkruns from my Friday night location, was too tempting to resist. Why not be one of the first to enjoy it?

Duffins Trail parkrun route
Duffins Trail parkrun route. Start and finish at bottom right. Head out and up, back down and do the little out and back at bottom left, then

The website tells you that the course covers a small portion of the Trans-Canada trail. It’s pretty scenic, even on a cool October morning. The surface is paved, with a few twists (including, till the tree is removed, a couple of tight turns on a path round a fallen tree. The path is pretty well trodden out, so it has been there a while.) It is a double out and back, with one 180 turn at the top, and another at the bottom left, near the finish. It came out a smidge short on most watches, so the latter turn might be extended for future runs.

The first Duffins Trail parkrun starts
The first Duffins Trail parkrun starts.

There were 22 of us for this first run, but that still included 3 long distance tourists, two Brits and an Aussie. A handful from the local Whitby parkrun had also come over. I had driven over from Kingston, a long (225km or so) straight drive in the early morning. I am dog-sitting, so was dependent on the largesse of my hosts, but they are perfectly happy for me to borrow a car in return for taking the dogs for walks, feeding and checking up on them and the cats. Still, if you can stay local to the event, all to the good. Had I been staying in the area, I’d have snapped up the offer of attending a Thanksgiving dinner, made at the coffee stop afterwards.

 

Garry, Matthew, Me, at the finish
Garry, Matthew, Me, at the finish.

That coffee stop is a lovely one, incidentally. The race director helps run The Waypoint, a local community centre. It is not-for-profit and provides the coffee and tea for free. Or a glass of water, if you like. It is well worth a look, all renovated locally, and likely to be a warm and snug spot in winter.

I had a decent if not stellar run. Matthew stayed with me for a while, before running off into the distance, but we could follow the course easily enough on our own, other than him ignoring the turnaround point at the top till I called him back. Some people didn’t understand the final turnaround, not running the full distance down the trail (thinking they just had to take a wide line around a three-way intersection) but otherwise there were no problems.

Parking is free on the Old Kingston Road, the main hughstreet in Ajax, or there is a car park nearby. Duffins Trail itself has a very small carpark, closed in winter, for early arrivers. There are no other facilities there, so build in a few extra minutes to visit somewhere en route if you’re driving. Otherwise, enjoy a lovely community parkrun, supported by the local town, with some shelter from sun or rain.

Mont Royal, Montreal

I arrived in Montreal around 2pm, tired from little sleep the night before, which I followed up by getting up before 8 and running 10 miles. Never even met my roommates – they were asleep when I went to bed and when I got up, and had left when I got back.

Still, I had to cancel cinema plans as, after a rainy morning, the day was bright and sunny. Not guaranteed in October, and the whole point of having time is to be flexible and take advantage of such things. I figured I would just walk through town, then realised it was the perfect way to stroll up to Mont Royal. And then maybe the cinema (I did not make it to the cinema).

View from Mont Royal

The Mont (I call it that because it’s not really a mountain) looms above the city, looking a bit precipitous, even inaccessible as you approach (I came at it from the South East). That might be because there are buildings right in front – it looks like it will be an impossibly steep climb, but it’s a little easier round the (East) side. There, picnic tables were scattered on the grass, most of them stacked up – I presume they get to winter somewhere that they won’t be ruined by freezing temperatures.

I ended up, as did great crowds of people on this fabulous afternoon, at Mt Royal Chalet, a scenic building in its own right. Inside the chalet is mostly open space, for events, high walls and windows, artworks round the edge and a couple of installations to tell you the history of the chalet, which was built as a make-work project.

The walk down was no less scenic, with the wide trails well used by bikers, runners and walkers. There are other, less-used, mud trails off through the trees, too, which are well worth a stroll. You’ll find your way down eventually – I did, anyway.

That was a very civilised walk on a lovely day. Canada is a fabulous country. Much of the attraction of the USA, but without the feeling that people have given up. There is some hypocrisy in my saying this – I have always been proud to work for universities, where the clothes you wear absolutely do not define you, and found people who still bear judgment based on clothes very old-fashioned. And wrong. But still – people just seem so much more attractive here, and part of that, whisper it, is that they’re making an effort with their dress. Probably they are just also in better condition, too. Add in greater safety, less edginess and my continually finding little touches – no intrusive security on public buildings, free refreshments at Toronto (domestic) airport and so on – and it is all a welcome relief. It also just feels more European – especially, perhaps, this French side. That does lead to one downside – it is much harder to get a friendly nod or greeting from people. That, at least, the US definitely does better.

Trois-Rivières; the city and how to get there

Let’s deal with how to get there first. Either use Orleans Express, which runs buses on the Montreal-Quebec City route, and will sell you tickets for as little as $25 if you book 8 days or more in advance. The bus I travelled on was on time, comfortable, not full of screamers or strange folk. Not full at all, in fact, despite several pick-up points. Or, better still, and I am kicking myself for not finding it, use kangaride.com/amigoexpress.com (the same site, but in EN/FR, respectively), which matches you with people driving the same routes, plus others (as far as Ottawa I have seen as a regular, for instance), for as little as $10 (it covers the US and Canada, so that may be a USD price). You also need a membership, at $7.50, and the site talks about calling first-time passengers to check they are real people etc. – Freetone is an app offering a free US/Canadian number, if you need one. Baggage space can be limited, but if so, that is clearly stated.

Parc Champlain
Parc Champlain. The Hostelling International site and library are here.

The town is small (though with 100,000 inhabitants, I was told, so not tiny). Downtown has developed in recent years – previously a dive, now there are a couple of streets full of restaurants and bars. Plus, apparently, and unbelievably to a Brit, still cheap house prices. Sign me up!

High street in the sun
High street in the sun.

The first day I was there, the 1st October, was a beautiful day. It was as cool as the date might suggest, but with bright sunshine pretty much throughout the day, it was warm for walking around and exploring. I strolled round, and round, the town centre, looking for somewhere I fancied for lunch, and a grocery store (shop!). I didn’t find the latter – head a little further out of town, on the Boulevard du St Maurice is a Super C. Lunch was Poutine, a first for me. Not bad, but not to be repeated – those cheese curds squeak their way down your teeth.

St Lawrence River
St Lawrence River, the big one which heads to the sea.

In the sun, the water looked fantastic, and a few big ships glided past. It was election day, and just the right level of busy for me to enjoy wandering.

Waterfront Trois-Rivieres
Waterfront Trois-Rivieres, looking like a road race has ended here recently.
Waterfront Trois-Rivieres
It really is an awfully big river.
St Lawrence river from a higher viewpoint
St Lawrence river from a higher viewpoint.

Essentially, this place has everything I wanted. All the major services are in town, albeit with French-language cinemas, there are museums and sights, but nothing so unmissable that I am pressed to run around catching up. Just a nice place to be for a few days. My French has worked well enough; how are you, fine, how are you, all good etc. worked in the supermarket, though I was foxed by the “do you want to donate to x charity” request until (sticking at it) she wrote it down. Later, in the post office, we were able to laugh together that my letter was .01 over the lowest posting amount, pay, pay too little, realise, apologise and give over the rest. Good enough, if not quite showing the improvement from “total immersion!” my hosts in Charette had suggested I might find.

Irish pub in town

Benches, Trois-Rivieres
Benches, Trois-Rivieres.

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